I have worked with teenagers both as a therapist and in other capacities, and one thing I’ve noticed over the years is how terribly common it is for them to not be getting enough sleep. In fact, a 2014 poll by the National Sleep Foundation discovered that up to 90% of them do not meet the optimal sleep requirements – which, it may surprise you to learn, is considered 9 or more hours a night.
So, why is this happening then? Why are teenagers missing out on sleep?
You’re probably not surprised by this one – our phones, computers, and televisions do a fantastic job of luring most of us in and keeping our minds stimulated, which makes it very difficult for us to fall asleep a few minutes later. If we, the responsible and mature grown-ups, have trouble detaching from devices, then we can’t blame teenagers for having the same struggles. Even when you have the best of intentions to watch a quick video from the comfort of your bed, the light from your device is enough to trick your brain into thinking it should be awake.
Shift in the sleep-wake cycle
What you may not know is that the part of the brain that controls our sleeping and waking patterns undergoes changes during adolescence. Teenagers truly are built to get sleepier at a later time, and in turn, they wake up later. This has been true for decades – long before technology took over. This means that if your 14-year-old swears that they’re just not tired at 9:30 (despite having had no issue with this the year before), they’re likely telling you the truth. However, this natural shift doesn’t mean that your teen should be staying up until midnight or later, either.
Teenagers are highly busy people these days! Gone are the days that kids were home by 4, done with homework by 5, and able to relax or spend time with family the rest of the night. As teens get involved in extracurricular activities and part-time jobs, their day gets pushed later and later. By the time they get home, they often still have piles of homework to get through – so it makes sense that they’re too wound up for sleep when bedtime comes around.
Eating and drinking habits
Many teens get themselves caught up in that vicious cycle of caffeine and poor sleep. They feel drowsy late afternoon, so they have a little coffee or soda to perk themselves up, and then later they’re too wired to rest. They end up getting just a few hours of sleep, and the pattern repeats the next day.
People sleep best in places that are dark, quiet, and cool. Pay close attention to your teen’s room – does their window face a busy road, where the sound of passing cars might be keeping them up? Do any outside or inside lights shine into their room? A house that is too warm can negatively affect everyone’s sleep as well.
Coming soon, I’ll post about what changes you can make in your homes and families to help your teens improve their sleep hygiene.